Breaking the Black Metal Seal

The room was a sea of black t-shirts that read “unholy” and “666” and there were more pentagrams than I could count.  Although I was there to see Myrkur, most were there to see the headliner, Behemoth, an extremely popular black metal band from Poland.IMAG01267

When it comes to what makes black metal “black” it does not get much more overt that what I saw that night.  Behemoth performed their new album, “The Satanist” in its entirety.  At one point the bassist, Orion, held a crucifix upside down over the crowd.  Later Nergal (who sings, plays guitar and is the undisputed creative force behind the band) handed out “communion” wafers that were imprinted with the band’s “unholy trinity” symbol (see below) to crazed fans in the first few rows.


And there I was, in the front row of the balcony, trying to take it all in.

Such was my first trip to a black metal show.  Not surprisingly I was not entirely at ease with what I saw and heard.  Was my presence there inherently in conflict with my Christianity and/or my vocation as a priest?  As I have written before, this question has long vexed me.

Although I listen to a lot of dark, heavy music there have been bands that I wouldn’t listen to, not because I didn’t like their music, but because they were overtly Satanic.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to question whether or not this divide was an artifice. After a lot of reflection, and in large part because I really wanted to see Myrkur perform her first gig in the USA, I thought it was finally time to push past those self-imposed restrictions and see how being at black metal concert made me feel.

It started with the crowd.  No one seemed particularly intent sacrificing a virgin after the show.  In fact, setting aside their appearance, most everyone I met was really nice.  It seemed that many, if not most, of the fans were there first and foremost for the music.

Of course you can find similar bands that don’t utilize satanic words and symbols so there must be some particular appeal to the pentagrams, et al.  If this wasn’t about religion per se then what was the attraction?


If what I’ve read on the subject is correct then despite appearances to the contrary, it not actually about worshiping a supernatural being but rather the ideals they see represented by the character of Satan.  Nergal summarized it pretty well in an interview with the Guardian “To me, Satan stands for everything that is dear to me. I’ve always been very fond of independence and autonomy and freethinking and freedom and intelligence. Satan has always been a very strong symbol of all those values, so for me it’s very natural to take his side.”

Assuming that the majority of fans echo his views this means that in essence it was really all about rebellion.  All the inverted crosses and blasphemy had much more to do with the adolescent rush one gets from pissing off the establishment and giving the finger to the family, school, boss, church or culture that has frustrated you and left you feeling alienated than it did with actually worshiping Satan.

That is a sentiment I certainly understand.  Getting into music in order to freak out your parents…check.   Creating a scary persona to intimidate your classmates… check. Indulging in everything dark and brooding in order to convince yourself that you are deep and profound… check. Been there, done that, still have the tattered t-shirts.

Of course recognizing this doesn’t leave me entirely at ease .  There are still some fundamental philosophical divides that merit further exploration. And doutbless there are some for whom all this is not merely a gesture but a reflection of deeply held beliefs that are in complete opposition to my own.  Yet understanding that for most the pentagrams were largely symbolic allowed me to sit through the entire show and find something to appreciate in the sounds, theatre and above all in the energy of the crowd below.  Click here to read a review of this show and see way better pictures than I took.

I’ll be writing more on this soon.  Until then I’d really like to hear your thoughts.

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Introducing Team Eve!

We’re just two weeks out from the Biblical Brew Off. Team Moses and Team Jesus are all tied up going into this third year of competition. Just when things seemed set for the showdown a wildcard appeared.  Both Rodeph Shalom and St Tim’s count many women among the beer geeks at our congregations.  No longer content to leave the brewing to the guys, they joined forces to form Team Eve.


In early April, under the expert guidance of Nancy Rigberg, they gathered at St. Tim’s to brew a saison, the name of which is so secret that even yours truly doesn’t know it yet.



Not only will their presence liven up the competition, it is fully in keeping with the ancient tradition that brewing was solely a feminine art.  Even today among some of the indigenous peoples, it is women along who brew the chicha since it is common knowledge even allowing a man to walk into the brew house will spoil the beer.

A big thank you to Nancy for her expertise and to Brian Biggs for creating the logo.

The only way to taste their beer is to join us at the Brew Off on May 7th at Rodeph Shalom.  Advance tickets are just $25 ($35 at the door).  Click here to get yours now!

SUSAN stirring the wort Removing Flavors NANCY LAUREL combining flavors JESSICA stirring in malt JEANNE cooling


Band of Brewers

As most of you know I’m a beer lover from Philly.  That makes me pretty darn lucky because there are lots of great things about Philly… neighborhoods, museums and food, the Rocky statue, the Liberty Bell and the only place where you can enjoy a nice frosty serving of “wooder” ice.

There are also many great things about the local beer scene.  We have the nation’s first and best Beer Week, we were the first city in the USA to import and promote Belgians and by and large, even though we have a ton of great breweries and bars, there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie in the industry.

If you needed proof of why this is such an awesome place for a beer lover to live, you need look no further than the annual Band of Brewers.  The concept is simple.  A bunch of local breweries each put together a band and perform three songs. The performance is judged and at the end of the show a winner is crowned.  Better yet the whole thing is put together for charity.

So, even though this is the sixth year, it was my the first time I was able to make it (doesn’t Mat Falco know I work on Sunday?).  I was excited to say the least but by the time I got there two bands had already performed.  Fortunately there was still plenty of music to come.  I caught up with friends and sipped on local brews while listening to some surprisingly talented musicians.

When Stainless Maiden took the stage I had no idea what to expect, apart of course from presumably being an Iron Maiden tribute that is.  Heck, I had never even heard of Broken Goblet Brewing before.


It didn’t take them long to make an impression.  The moment the singer took the stage with his beer gut and faux six pack abs, I was amused.  The music didn’t disappoint either, pumping out solid covers of Number of the Beast, Run for the Hills and, get this, The Brewer, which as you will have surmised, was The Trooper with beer-centric lyrics.

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By the time the giant Eddie took the stage for the finale, they had the crowd in the palm of their hands.  To no one’s surprise they were crowned the champs.  You can see a whole lot more pics taken by a whole lot better photographers here.


So move over Liberty Bell, you better make room for yet another reason why this not just a great city, but a great city to be a beer lover.

The Blog is a Cruel Mistress

As you may have noticed I haven’t written anything for a long time.  Or perhaps you didn’t notice because you unsubscribed and you know what, I wouldn’t blame you.  Each week when Wednesday would roll around I would stop and think, “Kirk!  You have to write something!”  Then invariably I would find something else that required my attention and before I knew it, it would be Friday.   So I’d hit myself in the head and say, “You have to write one next week.”  This pattern went on for so long that I actually started to wonder if I’d ever get back to it.

Well as you can tell, today I finally did.  Along the way I spent some time trying to figure out why I put it off for so long,  Truth be told, I’m not really sure.  I’m busy, but no busier than usual.  I still like to write, especially when it’s not a committee report or another sermon.  As you’ll see in the coming weeks I still have lots of stuff to write about. Cracking-the-Whip-1

Maybe I just needed a break.  Way back when I first started this blog a wise friend told me, “You know, having a blog is a lot like having a mistress.  It’s great at first but eventually it’s just one more thing you have to do that makes you tired.”  For the record, I have no idea whether or not this is actually true, but it sure makes sense in theory.

Whatever the reason, I’m back and recommitting myself to churning out posts on beer, music, God and all that other good stuff.  For now let me thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy all that I have to share about recent concerts, the return of the Biblical Brew Off, how fasting from beer for Lent got me thinking differently about drinking, and lots more.  See you next week!

Holy Bartenders

I really value and respect a good bartender.  They remember your name.  They remember your drink.  They can keep a dozen orders going all at the same time and the best ones can manage it all with great aplomb.  All of this is in addition to the work they do listening, offering advice and generally caring about the people they serve. It’s not a stretch to say the best bartenders are holy.

No, not like this:

More like this:photo-small

With that in mind here is a condensed version of my most recent sermon.


I have a lot of respect for people who change careers and reinvent themselves.  Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I weren’t a priest.  Let’s face it, seminary training doesn’t really prepare you with many other marketable skills.  I can’t fix a car or write a legal brief.  I don’t know how to start an IV or create a comprehensive lessons plan to teach 4th graders about history.  But there is one job that I think could be an easy fit.  I could become a bartender.

Think about it… What skills does a bartender need?  Well, you have to be good with people.  You have to listen to their problems and sometimes offer them advice.  I can do that.  You have to be organized and able to multitask.  I can do that.  You have to be able to diffuse conflict or even settle an argument.  I can do that too.  And when it comes to actually serving drinks, well it just so happens I know a little bit about beer.

All this overlap might explain why so many bartenders feel like they often wind up doing the work of a priest.  They deal with people who are lonely, sad or upset on a daily basis.  Any bartender worth their salt knows how to listen as a patron unburdens themselves after a tough day.  How many times have they had to hear a confession or offer advice on how to try and save a relationship?   I would bet that more than a few have even stopped a person from hurting themselves or someone else.  It’s fair to say that a barkeep has the chance to do some holy work if they are so inclined.

The overlap between priests and bartenders isn’t new.  In fact, in today’s Gospel Reading we find that Jesus himself might have helped blur the line between the two professions when he turned water into wine.  Let me set the scene.   We find Jesus as a guest at a wedding when the unthinkable happens.  The wine runs out.  Now wine was extremely important in Jesus’ time.  Why?  First because drinking water could make you sick.  Wine was a much safer choice, thus an essential part of everyday life.  Of course given what I see from some of your Facebook posts, not much has changed.

But wine was also important for religious purposes.  This was particularly true when it came to weddings.  Not only did it play an important role when it came to enhancing the guests’ enjoyment, wine also had great religious significance.  It was seen as a sign of G-D’s blessing.  To run out of wine then would not simply leave you with disappointed guests… it was a serious faux pas.

It is in such scandalous circumstances that we find Jesus today.  The wedding is in full swing yet the wine has run out.  Yet Jesus barely seems to notice.  Indeed, it is only after some prodding from his mother that he gets involved.  And so it is that rather reluctantly Jesus steps up to the task and enables both the good times and the blessings to continue to flow.

That’s all very nice but what does it mean?  Jesus doesn’t say.  In fact, the only thing that Jesus is clear about is that it is not yet his time to go public in his role as the Messiah.  Indeed, apart from his mother, a few of the servants and later, his disciples, no one seemed to know what occurred.  So apart from the demonstration of Jesus’ miraculous power, what, if anything does it mean for us today?

Let’s start with the fact that Jesus’s first miracle was both largely anonymous and devoid of any overtly religious trappings.  Think about it.  He never makes a show out of what he was doing nor does he appear to take any credit for it.  Moreover, he never invokes the name of G-D nor does he even do so much as bless the water.  So what’s the point?

Perhaps what Jesus is trying to show us is that miracles can happen regardless of whether or not we recognize them.  G-D acts in our lives, not just in obvious ways or through obvious people like priests… G-D also acts through mundane or even the profane circumstances or people.

Unfortunately, when this happens, we, just like the steward in the Gospel, tend to miss the fact that a miracle just occurred.  When Jesus’ wine is brought to him, he tastes just how wonderful it is but has no idea where it has come from. He mistakes it as a sign that the groom has mistakenly kept the best wine until late in the game.  Not once does he even suspect that the wine is a sign of G-D’s presence and blessing.

How often do we miss out on seeing what G-D is doing for us because it comes, not in church or from a priest or from reading the Bible but just in the course of daily life?  Maybe the whole point of this water into wine thing is to help us see that miracles happen all the time. G-D moves among us and intervenes in our lives in the most unexpected ways.  Yet we are too wrapped up in the problems of the moment or in trying to get through the day to even notice.  If we were just more open to that sacred possibility, how many more times might we find that the hand of G-D has touched us… helping us get through a crisis or deal with a problem or perhaps even helping find a respite of joy?

The truth is that G-D works just as much through the caring shown by a cop or a teacher or our dry cleaner as G-D does through the church.  Yet we are far more likely to give thanks to G-D when that blessing comes through our priest as opposed to our bartender.  Maybe the whole point of the Miracle at Cana is that we shouldn’t be so quick to make that judgment.  Jesus takes ordinary water and turns it into wine.   In the same way G-D takes ordinary people and makes them instruments of healing and blessing.  The question is that when these miracles happen, will we take them as a happy coincidence or will we recognize them for what they truly are?

The good news is that either way G-D will continue to reach out and bless your life.  The worst that can happen is that you enjoy that blessing unaware and go on with your day.  Yet how much more meaningful might those blessings be if we saw the hand of G-D at work when they happened?

When the guests drank the wine at Cana, there is no doubt they enjoyed it.  It was the good stuff after all.   But imagine if they knew where it came from?  Imagine if they knew just how truly special it was?  That wine would have done much more than brighten their day… it would have changed their lives because they would have known that G-D was in their midst and was there blessing them.

Now think about your life.  Think about times in which someone, especially someone unexpected, touched your life and blessed you when you needed it most.  That was G-D at work. Yet like the steward at the wedding, you probably didn’t know it.   But what if you did?  What if you saw that act of kindness or compassion for what it truly was- a blessing?  How much more joy and hope might you find if you remembered that G-D is not limited to sacred places or people?   Such preconceptions only limit our lives, but they cannot limit G-D.  And in the end, the blessing we need might come not from our priest but from a nurse, a mechanic, a crossing guard or even from our bartender.


Saints of the Suds: Katharina von Bora

It’s been a long time since I wrote about one of the great holy women or men who had an association with beer.  Today a new one was brought to my attention and so I couldn’t wait to share her with you.kathvonbora         

Of course most of us know that the great reformer and theologian Martin Luther also had a great love of beer.  He once jokingly wrote that, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” But, did you know that his favorite beer was brewed not by some monastery or town brewery but by his wife, Katharina von Bora?

Lutheran friends may already be familiar with her since her “saint” day is December 20th and thus is fast approaching.  A little quick research revealed that she was in fact an incredible woman who well deserves to be more broadly known and admired.  Katharina became a nun early.  After becoming enamored of the Reform movement and fleeing the  convent, she turned down a number of other suitors before surprising everyone and marrying the older Luther.


The Luthers lived in the Black Cloister, the former home of the Augustinian monks in Wittenberg. Katharina supported her family by gardening, making wine, raising livestock, and through use of the monastery’s right to brew, made some mean beer. She was a force to be reckoned with rising at 4 am in the summer and 5 am in the winter to oversee the workings of their large home and farm. Luther and Katharina had six children and adopted eleven more. At any given time, university students, refugees and homeless relatives lived with them.

Katharina’s prowess was not lost on Luther who showed her great respect.  He is reputed to have said, “In domestic affairs, I defer to Katie. Otherwise I am led by the Holy Ghost.” and, “At home I have good wine and beer and a beautiful wife, or (shall I say) lord.”             

6cfaf4f989610f44d77da60cbf22dc3b_320x320Katharina’s importance has not been entirely overlooked.  She has graced a postage stamp and had Danish brewery name a beer in her honor.  So, please join me in raising a pint or, more appropriately, ein maß (mass), to Katharina von Bora.  Prost!

Beer and Christmas Carols

This Friday, December 4th, marks the official Beer and Carols release party for Gingerbread Jesus.  Join us at Barren Hill Tavern starting at 6:30 to sample this year’s GBJ as well as a a very limited amount of last year’s version.  I will also be blessing a firkin of Gingerbread Jesús- GBJ aged with Mexican chocolate and anchos that I grew and smoked myself.  We will be singing Christmas Carols while sipping away at some GBJ.  Hope to see you there!GBJ

Thanks to Brian Biggs for the artwork. and Erin Wallace and Dave Wood for making it happen.   #gingerbreadjesus.